Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Expelled Church Members Sue Church, Directors and Officers
Court agrees to resolve former members' complaint.

Key point. According to the minority view, the civil courts may engage in "marginal review" of disputes involving the discipline of a church member, in a few limited circumstances if they can do so without inquiring into religious doctrine or polity. For example, a few courts have been willing to review membership dismissals in one or more of the following limited circumstances: (1) the church interfered with a member's civil, contract, or property rights; (2) the disciplining body lacked authority to act; (3) the church failed to comply with its governing documents; (4) the church's decision was based on fraud or collusion; or (5) interpretation of contested terminology in the church's governing documents.

A Hawaii court ruled that it was not barred by the First Amendment from resolving a complaint by several expelled church members challenging the legality of their expulsion. A group of church members (the "plaintiffs") sued their church, and its directors and officers, alleging that the church was operated for profit, and that church funds and assets had been misused for the pastor's personal benefit. They also asked the court to recognize their legal right, under the state nonprofit corporation law, to inspect the church's financial records. The plaintiffs' lawsuit contained the following allegations:

The church was a nonprofit corporation that had been granted a charter of incorporation by the state on the condition that it was "not organized for profit, that no part of [the church's] assets, income, or earnings shall be withdrawn or distributed to any of its members, and that officers, employees, or members of [the church] would not be paid for services that were not rendered or to be rendered to [the church]."

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